T.S.Eliot, literary modernism and the quest for meaning.

On Friday this week we had the wonderful opportunity to listen to Professor Barry Spurr (recently retired from his Chair of Poetry and Poetics at Sydney University) who came to enlighten us about “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land”. Professor Spurr’s lecture was astonishingly rich in its detailed contextualisation of Eliot’s early work.


We learned that Eliot, right from the start of his career was a passionate seeker for truth. This expressed itself in the metaphor of the journey which runs right through his whole work from “Prufrock” through to “The Four Quartets”. What truth was Eliot seeking? He was clearly living at a time of universal fragmentation, immediately after the First World War and like Picasso he looked directly at what was in front of him and saw the cracks in everything around him, from the material world through to human relationships and the individual human soul.


Eliot’s quest in poetry was to look with remorseless honesty at everything around him and in him, and in this deep seeing it was as if he found- not a solution- but a ballast against the disintegrating forces all around him. It was maybe this capacity of his for seeing and not flinching that led him towards the end of his life to embrace the path of the religious seeker. This we will be seeing especially in The Four Quartets next week.

Blog Topics for this week

1/ Near the end of Eliot’s “The Waste Land” he writes

“These fragments I have shored against my ruin”.

In the spirit of Eliot’s vision of the world, write a poem or a short prose passage that uses this line as its opening.

2/ Describe the Picasso painting above. In other words paint his picture IN WORDS. Say briefly what makes it “modernist”.

3/ Have you experienced, or do you know someone who has experienced any of the situation described in “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”? Tell their or YOUR story about what it feels like to be him.

4/ Find out something about the relationship between T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Why do you think this relationship was important to literary modernism?

5/ As always: create your own topic! Remember to incorporate visual elements into your blog!!

  1 comment for “T.S.Eliot, literary modernism and the quest for meaning.

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